Viva Las Vegas!

Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
Trip End Apr 16, 2011

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Flag of United States  , Nevada
Friday, August 19, 2011

So we left the story with us stranded in the small western town of Kanab, Utah with a broken Tank. You will be pleased to hear (as we were) that the repairs required to get the Tank going again were small. And cheap. And quick to do. Phew. Double phew as Debs and Isa's flight home was the next day from Las Vegas and we were some distance from there with little hope of any other means of getting there.

Having found ourselves in Kanab we thought we might as well at least have a bit of a look around. And would you know it but it turned out that we were there for a Western Movie Festival. This seemed to mainly consist of elderly gentlemen and ladies sat at a table signing autographs, books, CDs, DVDs and anything else they could flog. There was an enormous line of people waiting to see them though and we realized that they were actually old western movie stars from the 50’s and 60’s. None of us being western buffs this was only of limited excitement but then we saw the "shootout" stall and went over to have a look. It turned out that we could spent $10 to take part in a literal showdown with real guns. Thankfully rather than shooting at your opponent you shot at a target that records how quickly you did it and thus who “died”. Having watched a couple of locals walking up with their own guns and getting scarily low times Isa stepped up to have a go and beat the barrels off her opponent.  Victory complete we grabbed some excellent western themed food, jumped in the newly repaired tank and took off down the freeway into the desert towards the infamous skyline of Vegas.

Ah Vegas. What can you say about Vegas?  What a weird place. Rows and rows of casinos full of people willingly, not exactly happily but still enthusiastically plowing all their money into machines and games that are set up so you can’t win. Bizarre. For Debs and Isa’s last night we had decided to splash out on one of the strip’s classic hotels and were staying in the Luxor; the giant pyramid shaped hotel at the end of the strip. Outside, it is an awesome building to behold, particularly at night when lights zip up and down each corner and a huge skylight shoots a massive spotlight out into the sky. Inside, however, it was perhaps a little bit of a disappointment as they have relatively recently redecorated and dispensed with much of the Egyptian theming for a more modern style. The net effect though is that from the balconies on the inside of the giant atrium you look down on the blank and empty concrete roofs of a strip of bars and restaurants that could be any shopping mall anywhere really. Shame.

Not to be put off we headed out to sample Vegas at night, stopping first for cocktails at a roof bar at the nearby hotel with fantastic views of the strip as the sun went down and the lights came up, then moving on to a fantastic all-you-can-eat sushi and seafood restaurant for our last night dinner together. It was awesome. As much fantastic sushi as we could fit on our plates, huge king crab legs (of which Sarah helped herself to a basket full) and anything else you could imagine. Filled with pounds of seafood we then explored a little bit of the strip, taking in the fountains at the Bellagio and wandering around in various casinos. It was fun but utterly exhausting walking through icy cold maze-like, dark, noise-filled casinos (that all look exactly the same as one another inside: flashing machines, gaming tables and the ubiquitous awful carpets) occasionally connecting to a next door one through a shopping mall or otherwise being spat out onto the strip itself and the light, cars, limos (including some of the most outrageous hummer-limos and, new for us, truck-limos) and extraordinary heat as it was still mid 30s even at night. After 3 weeks out in the desert and small towns mainly camping to say it was a culture shock would be an understatement.  But then, where else in the world would we have been able to go on a rollercoaster on top of a skyscraper over a fake New York?

The next day after our first experience of a Vegas buffet for breakfast we set off exploring down the strip and the casinos we hadn’t seen the night before. The favourite had to be the Venetian in all its Vegas-style faux glitz and glamour complete with the recreation of the canal – it’s on the 2nd floor for goodness sake - and the still Disney-esque but surprisingly big Piazza San Marco. The ridiculousness was only topped by the fact that the gondolas were equipped with seatbelts.

All too soon, it was time to jump in the car and take Debs and Isa off to the airport for their flight home.   It had been an awesome 3 weeks: we had an absolute blast and covered some of the most amazing scenery and hiking of the trip so far. Even the car journeys were filled with amusement, at least partly due to Deb’s knack of coming up with 'Deborah-isms’ to cause hilarity. To give you a sample of but a few of the comments she came up with over the three weeks:

* Is it right that it’s all wet between my legs? [discussing the joys of nappy rash after the Narrows hike]

* Do you like climbing in your cracks then? [quizzing our canyoning guide on his preferences on face versus crack climbing]

* What’s it called when you spread your legs? [getting au fait with technical climbing jargon]

We also hadn’t really planned beyond this point either. Gordon’s brother Iain was arriving in 4 days time and we were excited to see him and start off on the next leg of our trip but we didn’t really know what do with ourselves in the meantime. We had thought about heading off for a couple of nights to see Death Valley but had decided that the temperature there at this time of year (50s in centigrade!) might be a bit much for the Tank and quite possibly for us as well, so we were thinking we’d stay in town and chill out while we waited for Iain but were wondering what to do with ourselves.   Debs & Isa solved this for us with their completely fantastic parting gift/ belated birthday present of a course in lead climbing at a local climbing centre.

And so, slowly and perhaps a bit surprisingly, we started to relax into Vegas and enjoy it more. We moved to a hotel in the downtown area which is, we imagine, much like The Strip was 20 years ago (although most of the clientele seemed to have been there at least that long). It had more classic, if slightly fading, décor, classic old style neon signs and not even a whiff of Disney-esque extravagances. The hotel we stayed in had an old style lobby and reception area and then a microbrew pub hidden away inside. Around the corner was the Freemont Street Experience: essentially a covered street which at night was lit up in a quite impressive light show. We managed to find cheap tickets to the Cirque du Soleil Mystère show one night which was jaw-dropping, and spent a very happy 4 hours one morning back on the Strip eating smoked salmon and drinking champagne at the brunch at the Bellagio.  We even finally did some gambling as our hotel not only had the cheapest blackjack tables in town (a mere $2 in) but also seemed to be the last casino to give free drinks to gamblers, even those as low-stake as ourselves.  After two hours of gambling we came out a massive $4 and several G&Ts up.

It was all actually really quite nice.

Our climbing course was also brilliant.  Not only did we have an instructor who spoke English, but it was clear, simple English.  We had a great time brushing up our climbing skills and learning all that we needed to know to go off on our own.  To Sarah’s horror he even made us practice falling, but it was a good thing to do!  We left utterly inspired to spend a lot of money on the new credit card on climbing gear and go put it to use.  Thanks so much again Debs & Isa!

Iain then joined us fresh from the UK just as the Vegas heat cranked it up another couple of notches – it was now about 45oC - for a more action-packed few days in Vegas together before we all headed on to California.  The start of Iain’s stay with us didn’t go entirely to plan as we headed out to dinner on our very first night with him, deciding to take the bus down the length of the Strip to see the sights on our way.  We had just hopped off the bus when Gordon automatically checked for his wallet and realized it was not in his pocket. Cue slight panic and manic (unsuccessful) chase down the Strip after the bus. Of course, having crawled along the whole way to our stop at less than walking speed the traffic suddenly cleared and the bus sped off down the road, carrying off Gordon’s wallet with everything in it: money, all our credit cards and driving licenses. All of which we had no way of replacing. Crap.

After trying to call the (closed) bus company’s office, we could think of nothing to do except cross over to the other side of the Strip (buses supposedly get to the end and turn around)  and board every bus that came back the other way like a set of border guards, questioning the driver and searching for the wallet. Eventually, after we had given up hope altogether a familiar looking bus driver and bus turned up and Sarah zipped upstairs, manhandled some poor lady off the seats we had been on and discovered the wallet still sitting there on the seat. Wow. A seriously lucky escape.

After that things went much smoother, and although the heat necessitated a significant amount of time spent lounging in the hotel pool (the only place where it was cool enough to spend more than 5 minutes outside) we still managed to pack a lot in. Highlights included seeing Pen & Teller’s awesome magic show (Iain impressively managed to stay up the whole way through it even though it was his first night off the plane!), a re-visit to the fantastic seafood buffet and a visit to Hoover Dam.

We had also moved hotels again to the Stratosphere Hotel for Iain’s visit which is a new hotel right at the end of The Strip with a massive tower to the side of it. On top of the tower are three amusement rides that variously thrust you up into the air on a tower sticking out the top of the building, 1,049 feet above Vegas and The Strip, send you hurtling towards the edge in a rollercoaster car that then stops dead and dangles you over the edge and spin you around repeatedly with nothing but the air between you and the ground below. Gordon insisted on riding all three and dragged Sarah and Iain kicking and screaming (literally) onto one of the rides each. As Iain and Gordon went out onto the roof for the tower-drop ride one of the ride attendants turned to us and said, fully deadpan:

“Oh sorry guys the ride is closed now. Lightning.”

Another guy then called across from the other side, “No we’re okay- they said we were good to say open for a while.”

“Really?” said the first taking a long, dubious glance at the sky, “Well if they’re sure”.

Iain and Gordon then dutifully took their seats feeling slightly nervous about being strapped to a seat that itself was attached to a giant metal pole on top of the tallest building in Vegas and felt even more relieved than usual when the ride was done.  Feeling a little foolish they came down telling Sarah how they’d been had by the attendants.  A few minutes later the whole tower was closed because of lightning and we realized they may not have been joking and were all thoroughly pleased to be safely inside in stationary chairs enjoying the view in a more sedate manner.

The absolute highlight of our last few days in Vegas, however, was our last night in town when we’d arranged a surprise trip for Iain of a helicopter ride over the Strip at night; which was awesome from the free champagne beforehand to the smooth ride over the incredible nighttime strip to moment we touched down afterwards. Definitely the best way to see the Strip!

Relieved to still have a wallet with full set of credit cards it was time to have one last fantastic Vegas buffet breakfast and hit the road again. We were heading to California, the coast and hopefully some slightly cooler weather!
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